(CNN) – He claims to have been tortured by Cape Verdean authorities and that even worse sentences await him if he is extradited to the United States. Alex Saab, the Colombian businessman who is also said to be a “financier” and a “straw man” of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in trouble, told CNN in an exclusive interview from his detention site in Cape Verde that he had no doubts what would happen to him if he was sent to America.
“If I am extradited to the United States, every independent expert is adamant that I will be exposed to forced interrogation techniques, torture, ill-treatment, an unfair trial, inhumane conditions of detention and cruel punishments, ”he said in a handwritten letter. , responding to questions sent by CNN, through its lawyers in Cape Verde.
“Apart from that, I have faith in God and I know he will give me the strength to win,” he also said, in what is his first interview since his arrest a year ago.
Saab was arrested on June 12, 2020 while flying from Venezuela to Iran. His jet stopped on the Cape Verdean island of Sal to refuel and the authorities stopped him there. The US Department of Justice is requesting his extradition to American soil and according to the Cape Verdean prosecution, after a long legal battle, a final decision will be rendered by the country’s Constitutional Court in the coming weeks.
the The United States alleges claims Saab is behind a vast network of corruption involving government-subsidized food boxes that allowed Maduro and his allies to steal hundreds of millions of dollars from the Venezuelan people, while using the food as a form of social control.
he was sanctioned by the US Treasury Department and is wanted by the South Florida District Department of Justice on money laundering charges.
Writing from an apartment on the Cape Verdean tourist island of Sal, where he has been under house arrest since January this year, Saab describes his detention as an “kidnapping” and as an “exceptionally serious diplomatic conflict”. Unsurprisingly, he also denies the accusations coming from the United States.
“We all know that sanctioning is political action,” writes Saab, accusing the United States of trying to meddle in Venezuela’s internal affairs. “The fact that they chose to sanction me confirms that they are telling the world that they have no evidence to support a charge.”
“That’s why they can’t call me a criminal, but still seek to destroy my reputation,” he concludes.
The US State Department did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment.
The United States Goes to Court
The United States disagrees and wants to prove that in court. His indictment is one of several targeting businessmen and officials who are part of or are linked to the Venezuelan government, including Maduro himself, with charges ranging from money laundering and corruption to narco- terrorism.
Maduro and his closest allies in Venezuela may have laughed at the accusations, but many outside Venezuela have not had that luxury. At the end of 2020, the US Department of Justice announced that 33 people targeted by its ongoing investigation into corruption in Venezuela had pleaded guilty. Court documents show some cooperate with the American authorities.
Saab himself has been charged with one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and seven counts of money laundering. The Department of Justice (DOJ) indictment lists several bank transfers made by Saab and its associates, outside of Venezuela and to bank accounts they control. The DoJ says this was part of a corruption and money laundering program involving government contracts to build low-income homes that allegedly saw an estimated $ 350 million stolen from Venezuela.
Saab also denies it.
“The accusations of money laundering are unfounded, purely political and artificially constructed by the authorities to serve political interests,” he said. “They are based on testimony provided by discredited witnesses who have been awarded US citizenship for their cooperation.”
“The truth is that American law enforcement has done everything possible to try to find a link between me and the United States, a country that I have not visited for 30 years,” he adds. .
Saab also claims authorities in other countries have targeted him in the past and have also been unable to find any evidence to convict him.
“The Swiss authorities, known for their meticulousness and thoroughness, have spent three years investigating all cash flows to and from specific accounts associated with me,” he explains. “The investigation was concluded after they could not find any evidence to support the charges of money laundering and corruption, the same allegations upon which the US charge is based.”
Saab believes that by targeting him, Washington’s ultimate goal is Maduro.
“I was asked, ‘Alex, why don’t you lie and’ derail ‘President Maduro? Why don’t you give the Americans what they want? You would be home in a few days. ‘ He said. “Let me be very clear, I have nothing bad to say about President Maduro, I only feel gratitude towards him.”
Saab claims he wouldn’t be of interest to Americans, denying being Maduro’s “financier” despite confirmation that he works closely with the Venezuelan government, when asked if he was the leader’s right-hand man in trouble.
“If by that you mean that I am loyal, committed and devoted to the defense of the interests of the Venezuelan people and that, in this sense, I act in collaboration with President Maduro, then yes, as well as with the ministers of his cabinet, ”he added. he explains. “But I am nobody’s ‘financier’ and President Maduro, an honest man of humble origins, does not need a financier.”
Venezuela has demanded the release of the businessman since his arrest. Although Maduro himself has not addressed the issue publicly – as he normally does when Venezuela makes international headlines – the country’s government has said his trip to Iran was part of a humanitarian mission. special, as “special envoy of Venezuela”. This too said he released Saab with a diplomatic passport which grants him diplomatic immunity, calling for his immediate release.
“My arrest and my detention in Cape Verde are completely arbitrary, illegal and illegitimate, there is no doubt about it,” he said, accusing the African country of bowing to American interests. “Cape Verde boasts of the independence of its judicial system and boasts of being a bastion of democratic values in Africa, but actions speak louder than words.
Saab accuses the Cape Verdean government of flouting the law, and while waiting for the country’s Constitutional Court to rule definitively on the advisability of his extradition to the United States, Colombian businessmen are calling on the judges to “punish the excess and arbitrary abuse of [Cape Verdean] government.”
“I was tortured physically and psychologically, I was denied the specialized medical care I needed. I was held in a cell with only one hour of light a day, ”he says. Saab battled stomach cancer in 2013 and needs constant monitoring, according to its legal team.
Arrested in June last year, he was placed under house arrest in January. Yet, he says, his conditions have not improved.
“I am monitored 24 hours a day by armed guards,” he said, criticizing not only the type of surveillance to which he is subjected, but also the lack of leniency and flexibility of the local authorities. “My parents had to die of Covid for the Cape Verdean authorities to have a drop of compassion and allow my sister to come visit me so that we can mourn their death together. “
CNN asked the Cape Verde prosecutor’s office to comment on Saab’s accusations against them, but they declined to comment. Earlier this month, when asked about the case, Cape Verde’s Attorney General Luís José Landim told reporters that Cape Verdean authorities have always obeyed the law.
Weeks away from a decision that could send him to the United States, Saab says he’s praying for his “dignity and freedom” to be restored.
“I think all the men and women in my place would have the same wishes, the same hopes,” he says. “Of course, I continue to hope that justice will be done in this matter. “
Many in Venezuela and the United States are also seeking justice – but in their version of justice, they would blame Saab for the crimes they believe he committed.
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